Sex, Violence And Obscenity

Early in the life of this blog, I posted on writing “love scenes.” More recently, I reflected on the struggle to avoid “the cringeworthy” while doing so. It’s not easy.

We’re also inconsistent. I find that wider issue perpetually intriguing. To broach it, in the sequel I inserted characters’ discussing it:

image

I’m not sharing here which characters are having that exchange. ;-) Regardless, I think we get it: violence in storytelling appears to be simply more acceptable than sex.

Free Stock Photo: Man in a suit with a small pistol.

Free Stock Photo: Man in a suit with a small pistol.

We also know that, disturbingly, violence can be perceived as sexy, and that sex can be portrayed violently. And they may even overlap. Those are other issues.

Then there’s obscenity. I’m not a big fan of it. I use it only sparingly.

To point that out is not because I’m making some big personal statement; it’s merely because I don’t like it, so I opt simply to have my characters not use it excessively. I “*”d out an obvious letter in that excerpt above because, while it may be in the conversation in the book, I don’t really want to put up stuff like that in the open on my site.

So we slaughter right and left, but labor at locating the appropriate boundaries for how to depict intercourse tastefully, and we need to be mindful of when to use nasty words. It requires no especial insight to assert we’re full of paradoxes.

I’m capable of being of about half a dozen minds on the same issue at the same time. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. We all also know we’ll probably never change.

Closing Another Book

If you have stopped by here throughout 2014 (Hello again!), you know it has been something of a difficult year for me. Now, I don’t claim I’m unique, of course. We all have personal challenges and troubles.

For me, 2014 will forever be the year of the death of one of my dearest friends, the near death of my father (and he is not out of the woods yet by any means), and being told the other day of the soon to be death of another friend.

And it’s not even stinkin’ October yet.

During all of that, I wrote a sequel to a novel I’d completed in 2013. In the new one, I’ve tried to pen (technically, I typed) 94,000 words that I again hope captures in entertaining fashion the ups and downs of a group of international friends and lovers. I hope it manages to convey both a youthful optimism as well as a need to never forget the fragility of what we think we so firmly possess in this life.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful sunset over a lake

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful sunset over a lake

Yesterday, having concluded re-reading it for “errors, dopiness, [and] continuity issues,” I sat back in the desk chair feeling mildly depressed. Again. Much like I recall having felt as I had completed the first book about the same time last year. (Long before there was this site.)

Is that how it will always feel in winding up a novel? There’s an interlude of satisfaction at having conquered a personal mountain. But there’s also almost a sense of loss too: that book is, shall we say, closed as well.

I had also run its 380 pages through the spell and grammar check. (My characters’ conversations are often so deliberately ungrammatical, it took ages.) Next I will read it “as a reader.” As I do that, I make further corrections. After that, I hope I can ship it ’round late next week or so to my faithful volunteer reader/ critics.

As I finished late yesterday, I also realized that in the background Sinatra’s version of Send In The Clowns happened to be coming out of my iPhone. I’ll just leave that where it is. I’m not going to even attempt to interpret the meaning of that coincidence.

When all is said and done, like the first novel this one will stand or fall on its own merits. I think it’s at least as good as the first, and maybe better. But who the heck knows really? Whatever I went through in composing it is meaningless to anyone who will read it. Still, I had quite a headache by the end of the day. I was exhausted.

I had a brandy last night. In the tale, some of the characters are partial to those. They are because I like that drink…. and they are my characters, gosh darn it! :-)

The first time I’d had one was in France a rather, uh, relatively long time ago. (Now, I’m getting depressed again.) I remember having had, umm, one too many. And so had a girlfriend. We were saved when her (sober, designated driver) friend “poured” us two into her tiny (French) car as we three left a party. I recall a lot of laughing among us being involved too.

Mind you, I’m far more mature, staid and intellectual nowadays. ;-)

Have a good Friday, wherever you are…

______

Oh, by the way, I’m up to 444 social media shares as of this posting. In 48 hours, shares of my posts out there have about tripled. I don’t know where that’s come from, but I hope it’s an omen of good things to come. :-)

OLD CARY GRANT FINE

The Winds of War novel arrived on Sunday. More reading! Lots more!

The Winds of War,

“The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk. [My photograph.]

The first order went astray, so Amazon.co.uk dispatched another. The historical timeframe in which Winds is set got me thinking about how, pre-internet, pre-blogs, I’d have informed you I’d received the book at last. I might have sent you a telegram:

WINDS ARRIVED FIRST LOST WILL READ WOW VERY LONG MUST STOP

Telegrams were once probably the best means for non-telephonic near instant communications. They were common pre-war and during World War II. How quickly we forget.

And, if I recall correctly, they were used in Winds. You paid by word, so tried to keep messages concise. This below is a classic about how a telegram could be “misunderstood.” In 2013, the BBC told us:

A reporter wanting to know the age of actor Cary Grant sent: HOW OLD CARY GRANT.

The actor’s supposed response?

OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU.

Hilarious. A bit of a smile for a Monday. :-)

.@WashingtonIrving You Stink!

In the spring of 1824, Washington Irving finished his Tales of a Traveller. While proofing it, he wrote to his friend Tom Moore. Here’s the opening part of the letter:

Brighton, August 14, 1824.

My boat is on the shore,
And my bark is on the sea.

I forget how the song ends, but here I am at Brighton just on the point of embarking for France. I have dragged myself out of London, as a horse drags himself out of the slough, or a fly out of a honey-pot, almost leaving a limb behind him at every tug. Not that I have been immersed in pleasure and surrounded by sweets, but rather up to the ears in ink and harassed by printers’ devils.

I never have had such fagging in altering, adding, and correcting; and I have been detained beyond all patience by delays of the press. Yesterday I absolutely broke away, without waiting for the last sheets. They are to be sent after me here by mail, to be corrected this morning, or else they must take their chance. From the time I first started pen in hand on this work, it has been nothing but hard driving with me….

He worked hard to produce the tale. Next, finished, he became bogged down in the corrections.

Arrgh!

Sound familiar? If you’re a novelist, see, you’re not unique in your sufferings. Washington Irving went through the same creative struggles and endured similar frustrations.

Free Stock Photo: A pile of antique books.

Free Stock Photo: A pile of antique books.

A biographer noted that, after the book was released, Irving faced his critics as we all do. Indeed he even endured what might today be labeled “trolling”:

Irving considered [Tales of a Traveller] on the whole his best work; but though it had a large sale, its reception in England was not quite what he had hoped for; and in America it was received by the press with something like hostility. Unfortunately some busybody in America made it his concern to forward to Irving all the ill-natured flings which could be gleaned from American notices of the new book. The incident – with all its unpleasantness – was trifling enough, but to Irving’s raw sensitiveness it was torture. He was overwhelmed with an almost ludicrous melancholy, could not write, could not sleep, could not bear to be alone. This petty outburst of critical spleen, backed as it evidently was by personal antagonism on the part of a few obscure journalists, actually left him dumb for more than a year.

Imagine if Irving had had to deal with the internet? If he needed to face lashings on Facebook? If he found himself beset by disparaging tweets launched his way?:

.@WashingtonIrving You stink! @FCooper is much better. Bet you’ll block me now. #loser

If I’m having a bad day, I try to remember that. We all should. Not everyone is going to like what you write. :-)

P.S. And @FCooper is? Come on! You must know! ;-)

Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up

It was widely reported the other day that when Facebook went down for a time, some of the web site’s users actually dialed 911. The L.A. Times noted:

Officials at one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department station were not happy after getting calls from residents because Facebook went down Friday morning.

“#Facebook is not a Law Enforcement issue, please don’t call us about it being down, we don’t know when FB will be back up!” Sheriff’s Sgt. Burton Brink of the Crescenta Valley station wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet, he said an unknown number of people called 911 about the outage….

Notice how the Sheriff dealt with it? He went on Twitter. But if this from Media Bistro is accurate, that would not have helped:

The Smartest People Prefer Twitter To LinkedIn And Facebook, Research Shows [STUDY]

Meaning the Sheriff would have been addressing the wrong audience in terms of, err, brainpower. ;-)

I love Twitter…. although I’m not a genius. And I do also use Facebook – but primarily as a keep in touch with family and friends sort of thing; and I’m not on it much. (I’m not on LinkedIn at all.)

Which led me to thinking about where we are here: WordPress. When I first used it for another blog about 10 years ago, I had found it refreshingly straightforward.

However, when I returned to it last autumn to start this blog after several years’ break, I felt far more out of it than if in my absence someone had merely moved the furniture around. It seemed more like I had been dropped into another technological era. To borrow from Catskills literature, it felt rather Rip Van Winkle-ish.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\'s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\'s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\’s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\’s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

On the Dashboard, very little was where I remembered it. There were vast changes throughout the site. Trying to navigate, I sat there utterly lost at first.

“What is that blue screen for? How do I get back to the Dash? I clicked on that, and it’s leading me here? And what the heck does THAT symbol mean?” (Uh, I didn’t always say “heck.”)

What happened to my Atari 800?

That was then. I now have matters under control. Well, mostly anyway. :-)

Have a good [grumble, grumble] Monday….

The “Fifty Shades” Universal Trailer

Get ready. Uh, brace yourself. Variety:

On Thursday morning, Universal Studios debuted its first trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the highly anticipated film based on the erotic novels by E.L. James.

The movie stars Jamie Dornan (who appears san [sic] shirt) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his inexperienced lover Anastasia Steele….

We don’t know yet if the film will be “decent.” (If that’s the right word?) But the quality of the book and its film adaptation are not really the concern here; those are for others to argue about. I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film.

I will say this, though. While you might dream a novel you write will one day find itself a film, if it were to do so that film’s actual quality is mostly out of your control. I suppose the bottom line is if you found yourself paid (especially if you were paid “big”) for film rights, I suspect as a writer you would be thrilled to take the money and run. ;-)

But, privately (between just us here…. and the internet), I’d hate to see my book(s) theatrically ruined.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

Some Literary Profundity….

….courtesy of Twitter:

@AdviceToWriters: Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.

KHALED HOSSEINI

Hmm. Is it? Do “lies” ever actually reveal “truth”?

image

I see it rather more this way: If your fiction is the act of weaving a series of untruths, it’s ultimately a lie.

But that’s just my personal take, of course. ;-)

image

Splits-ville?

The parents are now returned to Pennsylvania. I’m pretty sure they still have no clue what I’ve been up to. I know this because, if they did, they’d question me. (Believe me, restraint is not my mother’s strong suit.) Ah, the “fun” of writing under a “pen name.;-)

So, house guests gone, calm returns to the Catskills. And I can work again. After taking the sequel and cutting it in half, that idea I’d had of releasing the first half of it sometime in the summer is looking possible.

I had always planned the first sequel to be the same 5×8 size and font as Passports. So my dividing job yesterday revealed the book so far is 35,000 words in its first half, which is about 140 pages of text based on the Passports format. However, it is only 15,000 so far in its latter half.

Perfect. So this split may well work.

And now, we dance!:

Have a good Wednesday! :-)

“As a reader, which do you prefer?”

I had a light bulb go on over my head first thing this morning. And, no, it wasn’t because I’d turned a lamp on that happened to be behind me. ;-) Rather, an idea hit me about the in-progress sequel: Should it be two volumes?

Passports is nearly 400 pages and a complete novel. Unexpectedly, while I had been sitting at my desk doing some writing, and also thinking on the title for the sequel (and I think I’ve got one at last!), it dawned on me that having had that full 400 pages as a series opener allows me the flexibility to do what I want afterwards. I don’t need to do the same format yet again…. exactly the same way.

Meaning another “400 page” effort all at once is hardly required. Currently, I have around half of the sequel finished. But I am months away from completing it, and it might not appear before early 2015.

That strikes me as just too far away. However, I could instead release the first half of it during the summer. I have much more written of the first half than of the second, which makes this even more appealing an idea. If I concentrated from here on only on that first half, finishing that within weeks is not out of the question.

As a reader, which do you prefer? A longer, single novel? Or do you like installments that appear at shorter intervals? Which approach appeals to you more as you follow an ongoing tale?

image

The halves put together would still add up to around another 400 pages. And they would have to be read as a continuous story, one after the other. In the future, after the second half were out for a while, I might re-package them as a single volume.

Hmm. Having the next 200 pages of the story out by August/ September? And another 200 pages out early next year? I like that idea. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday!

“I drew my pistol….”

I haven’t avoided this topic intentionally. Yet I know I haven’t really mentioned it thus far either. But it’s an issue that invariably crops up, so I thought I might as well address it and be done with it.

At the first hint of a fight, “the French surrender”: How often have we heard variations on that barb?

The most notable recent expression of it was found in the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” insult. That first appeared in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons: In a typically obnoxious comment, Willie, Springfield Elementary’s Scottish janitor, proclaims to a class of French language students, “Bonjoooouuur, ya cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys!” It was then resurrected and appropriated by a U.S. political polemicist for a silly 1999 article. A few years after that, he recycled it over France’s adamant refusal to join in (and diplomatic attempts even to prevent) the 2003 assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Others took it up as well.

Overlooked amidst the childish name-calling, was that from 2001 French troops were fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside U.S. and British forces. And of course the “surrender” potshot did not begin with bitterness over France’s opposition to invading Iraq, or a throwaway line in The Simpsons: those were merely newer manifestations of it. In the novel – which takes place in 1994-1995 – I nod to the slur’s likely long familiarity to most readers:

[Isabelle] slumped. “You win. I am too weak. I surrender.”

James could not resist a dig. “Well, that’s very French!”

She stuck her tongue out at him.

As he finished tucking the bed sheet under the mattress, James wrote off her assertion. “You? Too weak? Huh. Yeh, right!”

With the centenary of the First World War almost upon us, visiting Verdun’s battlefield and cemetery should educate just about anyone. (I write “just about” because some individuals always prove beyond reach.) The almost incomprehensible scale of the carnage of that 1916 horror is so overwhelming you’ll almost surely find yourself with tears running down your face. It is also hardly surprising that any people who had lost hundreds of thousands in a battle like that never would be gung-ho to see such butchery repeated.

My most vivid recollection – and I am hardly alone – will always be the “Bayonet Trench.” All that is visible are a group of bayonets sticking up out of the earth at regular intervals. An entire company had been deployed there, leaning their rifles on the parapet, and had evidently been buried and killed where they had stood when a bombardment collapsed their trench on top of them. (It has also been argued that bayonets were attached to the rifles afterward by survivors, to mark the spot. The exact truth will probably never be known. Regardless, the company had been entombed in the trench all the same.)

France endured far fewer military losses in 1939-1945’s Second World War. The “surrender” insult seems rooted in the French army having been defeated by the Germans in the spring of 1940. In that 1999 “surrender monkeys” article’s “Top Ten Reasons to Hate the French,” the author makes that abundantly clear by topping his personal list with this (although he also seemed to think he could claim he had had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek):

“They surrendered Paris to the Germans without firing a shot.”

They did? What one learns. Apparently the Germans suffered some 27,000 killed, 111,000 wounded, and 18,000 missing (and most of those “missing” turned out to be dead) …. as the French “surrendered” Paris “without firing a shot.”

What actually happened in early June 1940 was the French government withdrew from Paris after it realized it could no longer be held. In doing so, the government also announced loudly that it would not be defended – to try to spare it and its inhabitants the same fate as Warsaw the previous September and Rotterdam on May 14. But then again, why should readers expect a “journalist” to grasp history much beyond what he picks up from watching The Simpsons anyway?

In Strange Defeat, French actual historian Marc Bloch reflects on why France had been so unexpectedly and shockingly overwhelmed. In the short book, written in 1940, he argues persuasively that it was the country’s political and military establishment that had been defeated, not the ordinary French soldier. The lengthy German casualty list that resulted from just six weeks of combat might well be said to support that contention.

Yes, the Germans had prevailed. But their high command had been exceedingly nervous, and fearful of a reverse, until almost the very end of the campaign. The German victory was not the spring driving holiday across the pleasant French countryside that some today seem determined to think it was.

French jets overfly a Bastille Day parade. [Photo by me, 1995.]

French jets overfly a Bastille Day parade. [Photo by me, 1995.]

My Passports is a novel, not an academic treatise. Still, I put varying memories shared with me into my characters’ mouths. One example:

“Near Dunkirk, Belgians we were with wished to surrender,” Marcel recalled. “We feared they would tell the Germans our position. One punched my commander. I drew my pistol, punched another and we locked them in a basement.”

I simply couldn’t omit the likes of that. The complexities of France ever-challenges the historian. Even in a novel that focuses mostly on individuals’ lives and personal experiences, weaving in its complexities subtly and realistically into the storyline is similarly challenging.

Another comparison. Marc Bloch would join the Resistance in 1942. Ultimately he would be arrested and shot by the Gestapo in June 1944 – shortly after the Allies had landed in Normandy. Strange Defeat was published posthumously.

Half a century or so later, U.S. “journalists” would write of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” Ensconced in front of their PCs, the biggest danger to their life and limb was usually the risk of paper cuts when re-filling the printer. Or perhaps spilling hot coffee into their laps.